(1929 - )
One of the great success stories of modern times begins
in 1929, during the Depression, in Newark, New Jersey. A son was born
to the Marcus family, recent Jewish immigrants from Russia. The Marcuses had little money and few possessions, but they
were confident that the "golden land" that they had come to
would provide the opportunities for themselves and their son, Bernard,
to build a life for the family.
Growing up poor in the tenements, Bernie Marcus had every excuse not
to achieve. Nevertheless, he was determined to push himself to work
hard until he reached his goals. His real desire was to become a medical
doctor, but his family's economic situation and the medical college's
quota system afforded him little hope of achieving this. Pharmacy became
his second choice and he put all of his energy into becoming the best
pharmacist he could be.
Marcus graduated from pharmacy school and practiced for a short while.
He parlayed this job into ownership of a drugstore. Ever the adventurer,
he partnered with two gentlemen and ventured into discounting, learning
on the way to operate a business and how to merchandise.
Marcus's hard work and motivation to succeed eventually began to pay
off. He transitioned into a job at Vornado, which owned a company called
Two Guys, where he became Executive Vice President. He then went to
Handy Dan, a small chain of home improvement stores. The chain was planning
to go public but it had lost its CEO. Marcus was chosen for the position
and he took Handy Dan to new heights. Under his leadership the chain
grew to 80 stores and, along the way, Marcus gained much knowledge about
The quirky bit of misfortune arrived when the board of directors chose
to fire Marcus from his job at Handy Dan. That same day, also fired
was a then-unknown company employee named Arthur Blank. Marcus and Blank
decided to join forces and in a short while a new concept appeared on
the horizon: Orange aprons were the fashion and tools were the gear.
Marcus had given birth to what was to become one of the great stories
in retail history: The Home Depot.
The Home Depot phenomenon personifies the true Cinderella story. It
is the story of the indisputable enigmatic man who led a string of retail
home improvement stores into a $50 billion giant in a mere 22 years.
In the history of the world, no other retailer has ever even come close
to this level of success and accomplishment in such a short period of
The time was ripe for The Home Depot to enter into the market and Marcus
seized the day. He not only built a business, he created a culture.
One of his innovations was to train his staff to work hard to please
the customer. All employees were trained to be courteous, helpful and
knowledgeable, and customers came to love the attitude at this new type
of home improvement store. They found value in the product and repaid
The Home Depot by returning to buy again and again.
To repay his employees for their dedication, associates were rewarded
with stock options. Former secretaries and sales personnel who never
even reached the management level are millionaires today because of
purchase plans and stock options they received when they started working
for the company. To Marcus, his employees are never just staff. To him,
the employees of The Home Depot were family. This became a commitment
for Marcus, a commitment to family, to employees, and with the increase
in business, a commitment to philanthropy.
The Home Depot employees responded to Marcus's goodwill with gusto.
A destitute woman walked into a Home Depot store asking for a product
costing under $5 that would repair her roof. She ended up spending well
under $5, because 20 employees of that Home Depot store joined forces
the next weekend and repaired the woman's roof for free. These dedicated
store employees displayed the same level of commitment to the public
that Marcus had shown to them.
This ethic of commitment stands true today throughout the world at every
Home Depot: the same values, the same respect, and the same generosity
of spirit. The Home Depot was there in Oklahoma during the Oklahoma
City bombing-Home Depot trucks arrived before the fire trucks with relief
equipment to help the victims.
Home Depot was on the scene again in New York and at the Pentagon on
9/11. In fact, the only trucks running were Home Depot trucks, which
were filled with lights, drills, tarpaulins and anything that might
provide aid to the needy.
Marcus's unbridled philanthropy is legendary. He not only donates his
wealth, he also donates his time to worthwhile causes. He leads by example.
Following his lead, most of The Home Depot employees who have enjoyed
great wealth from their tenure at the company have also been very charitable.
Marcus takes pride in having created a generation of special people
who have embraced his efforts and concerns as their own.
It is a magical moment when someone finds a lifelong partner who shares
his hopes and dreams. In Billi, Marcus found the lifelong partner he
had always been seeking. When the two met, Billi was also a retailer,
working long hours to support her beloved only son. She understood Bernie's
12-14 hour days. She stood by his side and helped promote the growth
of The Home Depot. She is a wonderful partner, a natural at public relations
and the most supportive person in Marcus's life.
Generous in her own right, Billi Marcus has championed many charitable
causes. Among the many she has embraced is the Shepard Spinal Center,
whose charitable golf tournament she has anchored in name and deed for
Marcus has a philosophy for directing his philanthropy. He believes
in looking first toward family needs, which means he believes passionately
in Jewish causes. Bernie sees the survival of the Jewish people and
the survival of his beloved Israel as paramount. His involvement in Israel led him 11 years ago to found
the IDI, the Israel Democracy Institute. The IDI accumulates information
on legislation passed in other countries and advises the Israeli government
whether or not to implement it. Israeli leaders now have access to data
about laws and programs that have succeeded and failed in every democracy
in the world. Armed with this knowledge, the government is able to intelligently
enact legislation and which actions to take to best meet the needs of
the Israeli people.
Marcus's passion motivated the involvement of George Shultz, the former
Secretary of State of the United States, to become involved. Together
they have created the sole consulting think tank for the Israeli army.
Marcus hopes they will be able to find a path to solve Israel's most
important and relevant question, "How does a democracy conquer
terrorism and remain a free state?"
The IDI represents all Israelis, including the ultra-Orthodox,
the non-religious, Arab Israelis and even new refugees. Though Marcus
continues to be one of the organization's chief benefactors, many new
people throughout the United States have joined and donated to this
worthy cause. The door is open for others to join as well.
Notwithstanding all of his contributions, Marcus does not delve into
the politics of the IDI. The Israel Democracy Institute has an Israeli
board and is run by Israelis. Marcus founded the IDI to help Israelis,
and he believes it should be run by Israelis who best understand the
needs of their people.
Marcus also directs a great amount of his philanthropy into helping
those suffering from catastrophic diseases. Many years ago, when he
was directing the day-to-day operations of The Home Depot, an employee
came to seek his advice. She had a child with a brain disorder; her
child couldn't communicate and she had no one to turn to for help. Marcus
made her cause his cause and suffered with her when they could find
no answers. Today the Marcus Institute stands as a testament to those
earlier days. Marcus founded this great institution not for publicity,
"but because it was the right thing to do." Parents of children
with catastrophic diseases now have somewhere to turn. The Marcus Institute
treats neurological disorders, autism, cerebral palsy, developmental
delay, behavioral disorders and fetal alcohol syndrome. It is the only
institute of its kind in the world that enjoys a 100% success rate of
curing children with eating disorders.
The Marcus Institute works hand in hand with Emory University Medical
School in fighting the traumatic diseases of its many patients. Children
and parents alike have somewhere to turn to when disaster strikes. To
illustrate the vital role the Institute plays in helping the public,
there is currently a waiting list for those who need treatment, and
the Institute is training doctors daily to help meet the demand.
Marcus's other passions for his philanthropy include medical/healthcare
issues. He has supported research at the City of Hope Hospital and served
on their board since the late 1970s. He also provided grant support
for research that includes bone marrow and stem cell transplants.
In the area of free enterprise, Marcus has also made this a philanthropic
priority. It is motivated by his own ability to succeed with The Home
Depot. He wants to promote a system for all Americans who want to help
What's Marcus doing now? The answer is the soon-to-be Georgia Aquarium.
What was the impetus for this great philanthropic endeavor? Marcus says
this is "his payback for his success in Georgia."
Twenty-four years ago The Home Depot was founded as something unique
and unusual in Atlanta, Marcus's adopted city. The people of Atlanta
supported his first stores, his ideals and his values. Atlanta was the
first stop on The Home Depot's great rise to success. How better to
reward his fellow Georgians who helped him build his dream, then to
build something that all of them can enjoy.
"An aquarium will be something important for the citizens of Georgia.
Most major cities boast an aquarium of some type and now Atlanta will
be able to do the same, and on a grand scale. Aquariums lend a hand
to tourism and enhance the selling ability of the state. I planned the
aquarium to be so impressive that it will attract millions of visitors."
Marcus is happy to help the state. More than this, he is thrilled for
his fellow Georgians. An aquarium knows no prejudice, no boundaries
and no color. It welcomes everyone eager for a look at the treasures
of the sea. It will be educational; part hands-on, full of programming
and fun. Hopefully it will revitalize downtown Atlanta as it holds a
prime location in a premier city.
What has such great success done for Bernie Marcus? It has given him
the ability to do so many good things in this world. The blessing of
being born in the United States of America gave him a foundation upon
which to base his ideals. He remembers his mother saying that the happiest
day in her life was the day she received her citizenship papers. He
values and loves this great country. He's proud to be an American. His
life is the embodiment of the American Dream, demonstrating that if
you work hard, you will succeed.
The Marcus name has become synonymous with philanthropy. Marcus' work
ethic has become the gold standard and his accomplishments will stand
the test of time. There is a glow about Bernie Marcus and a twinkle
in his eye. I want to thank you, Bernie, for listening and sharing.
Thanks for doing your part and leading the charge to make our world
a better place.